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Sag Harbor express. (Sag Harbor, Long Island, N.Y.) 1947-current, December 28, 2017, Image 1

Image and text provided by Suffolk Cooperative Library System

Persistent link: http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn90066145/2017-12-28/ed-1/seq-1/

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SPECIAL YEAR-END EDITION TOP TEN STORIES OF THE YEAR > P a g e 4 OUR MOST VIEWED WEB POSTS > Page 6 NINE FAVORITE PAW PRINTS > P a g e 7 A DOZEN BY HELLER > Page 13 •sO cr & k •»* CJ o lÿ I-» US gjk S sagharborexpress.com THURSDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2017 VOLUME 159 NO. 26 ONE DOLLAR P e r s o n o f t h e Y e a r COM M U N ITY FIRST AT CONCA D ’ORO From Little Leaguers to families in need, the Venesina family always kept their doors open m Conca D'Oro’s Frankie Venesina, in red, with his parents Tony and Lina and longtime employee Chris Cadger on the last day the business was open, October 31. michael hellerphott Mr. venesina signs a pizza box for Erik Guangh on the last day. “Obviously every­ one knows how wonderful that family was to the entire community - REBECCA GUYER “That kind of warmth doesn’t drive revenues or fit on a spread sheet, but it is p a rt o f the local fabric.\ - RACHEL CARDONE “I worked at Pierson for a year counseling kids who were really struggling. Without fail, I’d find out one of their safe places was Conca D’Oro.\ - SUSAN THOMPSON PETERSON BY STEPHEN J. KOTZ S ag Harbor residents have seen their community transformed over the past four decades from a struggling factory town into a world- class resort. But one constant re­ mained over that time: Conca D ’Oro, the Italian restaurant and pizzeria on Main Street, where you could get any­ thing from a slice of piping hot cheese pizza straight out of the oven to an af­ fordable full sit-down dinner w ith the family in the dining room out back. In July, when word spread that Tony and Lena Venesina, who opened Con­ ca D’Oro in 1975 shortly after arriving from Sicily and continued to run the business with their son, Frankie, had sold the restaurant, it hurt. That’s because in a small town like Sag Harbor, family means everything. And the Venesinas were family. Their former employees say the Venesinas were great to work for and were always there to quietly lend a hand to anyone in need. Community members said the family was warm and welcoming and always generous whenever asked to contribute to a lo­ cal cause. “It wasn’t going out to a restaurant, it was going home to get pizza,” is how Rebecca Burnside, the president o f the Pierson High School PTA, described a visit to Conca D’Oro. Ms. Burnside moved to Sag Har­ bor in 2001 and worked for a tim e as manager o f Phao, a short-lived Thai restaurant in the space now occupied by LT Burger — whose owners coinci­ dentally have purchased Conca D’Oro. She first met Frankie, she said, when he would bring complimentary pizzas over for her staff at lunchtime. Rachel Cardone, who now lives in Washington State, went to St. An­ drew’s School with Frankie and his older brother, John, who runs the Edgewater restaurant in Hampton Bays. The Venesina family “provided this warm nest in the heart o f the vil- lage, she recalled. “It was a safe place you were allowed to go as a kid when you were maybe as young as fourth or fifth grade. Your parents could drop you off and you could have a slice of pizza and a root beer or coke and feel as though you were a grownup.” Terri Federico, who is now a read­ ing teacher at Pierson Middle-High School, grew up in Sag Harbor and remembers when kids could, leave the school grounds as early as fourth grade for lunch. The destination, she said, was always Conca D’Oro. Like many other Sag Harbor lo­ cals, Ms. Federico was soon working there, busing dishes, waiting tables, and stayed on right through graduate school. “Conca D’Oro paid for my mas­ ter’s degree,\ she said. In the early days, Ms. Federico said on weeknights, Lena Venesina cooked and she waited tables by herself. “She treated us all as though we were family,” she said. “It was just a great environment to work in.” “Obviously everyone knows how wonderful that family was to the en­ tire community,” said Rebecca Guyer, yet another former employee. “It was just a good family restaurant,” she added. “People would go on and on about the food.” When Sag Harbor started to become a destination, with celebrities beginning to show up on Fridays and Saturday nights, the fam ­ ily stayed the same, she said. “It was a piece of the local commu­ nity,” added Ms. Cardone, who joined her four siblings and her mother, Jeanne, in working at the restaurant. “That kind of warmth doesn’t drive revenues or fit on a spread sheet, but it is part o f the local fabric.” Susan Thompson Peterson is yet an­ other local, who attended St. Andrew’s School and Mercy High School with Frankie Venesina and who worked at Conca D’Oro on and O ff over the years. Ms. Thompson Peterson, who went on to obtain her master’s degree in social work, said under Frankie’s direction, the restaurant remained a comfort­ able place for kids o f all ages. “I worked at Pierson for a year coun­ seling kids who were really strug­ gling,” she said. “Without fail, I’d find out one o f their safe places was Conca D’Oro — and Frankie. He just had that ability to relate to kids.” Ms. Thompson Peterson said she re­ membered kids’ favorite sports teams and would hand out packs o f baseball cards that he kept behind the coun­ ter. I f a kid liked to dance, he might ask him to show off a few moves in exchange for a slice. “He knew how to make it a really warm and welcoming environment, and everyone felt ac­ cepted and at home,” she said. When the restaurant closed on Halloween, hundreds of customers poured in to thank the family and or­ der one last pizza — or, in many cases, five or 10 pies. Pat Malloy, who served as hostess and waitress and said she “did a little of everything” over the past 27 years, was the longest serving employee. While the Venesinas were warm and friendly to their customers and treated their staff like family, Ms. Mal­ loy said not everyone in town knew just how good they were to people who were down on their luck or sick. “There was a lady Lena met when her kids were at St. Andrew’s School,” said Ms. Malloy, referring to. Rosema­ rie Komyathy, who taught Lena’s sons and tutored her in English. Ms. Komy­ athy suffered from cancer for many years and had to go to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York for chemotherapy. “She’d come back on that bus and be so sick, but Lena was always there to meet her and make sure she had food and ginger ale,” Ms. Malloy said. Lena also made sure that Dot Wi­ ley, another Sag Harbor local, who was growing old and lived alone, had regular meals. “When she died, there were maybe six people at her funeral and Lena was one of them,” Ms. Mal­ loy said. The family also helped out a num­ ber o f homeless men, including Pe­ dro Moreno, who said he sometimes slept in the restaurant or stayed in a small wooden hut the Venesinas built for him in the parking lot out back. If it was really cold, he said, Frankie would let him stay at his house. In exchange for food, he would sweep floors or wash dishes. Paul Federico, yet another Sag Har­ bor local and former employee, said Tony Venesina also had a soft heart. “When he found out someone in the community wasn’t feeling well, he made it a point to help out,” he said. “I remember when Paul Sidney of W L N G got sick. Tony made it his per­ sonal mission to keep an eye on Paul. He was always bringing him soup, bringing him food.” Michael Dee, the head o f the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Little League, also has nothing but good things to say about Conca D’Oro. Last year, the league was short on money, and Frankie offered to host a fundraiser, in which he agreed to do­ nate $4 for each pie sold on a Friday night. “We brought in about $500 and Frankie added another $250,” Mr. Dee said. “He donated to Little League be­ cause, well, just because. He knew it was important to Sag Harbor.\ And Conca D’Oro was important to Little League. “I remember walk­ ing in there on a Friday night and the restaurant, front and back, was filled with parents and their kids in their uniforms,” he said. “As each kid was walking up to get their pizza or slice, Frankie or John [counterman John D ’Amato] would ask them how the game was. There was a sense that the fu n of Little League extended into Conca D'Oro.” Ms. Burnside, who first met Frankie when she worked at a competing res­ taurant, said her more recent experi­ ence with Conca D’Oro has revolved around the PTA-sponsored Pizza Days at the Sag Harbor Elementary School. She said Frankie made it a point to personally deliver the pizzas, which he provided at or near cost. “He knew if a s taff member was a vegetarian, so he’d bring them a special lunch,\ she said. “He’d bring pizza for the janitors. Every week he would surprise us with something special,” she said. “W hat I loved about Conca D’Oro and Frankie was i f our teachers were doing math lessons with certain kids, and were looking for a real-world experience, Frankie would team up with them. Say they were learning fractions, he’d teach them by dividing up a pizza or measuring the ingredi­ ents,\ said Matt Malone, the principal of Sag Harbor Elementary School. Mr. Federico, who worked at the restaurant in the late ‘80s and early '90s, said the work was hard. “The nights would go by in a flash. It was so busy we couldn’t make the pizzas fast enough,” he said. “At the end of the night, we’d just all look at each other.\ But the hard work helped forge strong bonds, he said. “One of the things I’ve always remembered about Conca D’Oro is when you worked there, you really were family,\ he said. “They fed you, they took care of you like you were one o f their own.” Tim Gilmartin of Southampton, another former employee, agreed. Mr. Gilmartin met John Venesina on the first day of school at Mercy High School and they became good friends. • He worked at the restaurant through college and even when he went to Hof- stra Law School. “Lena would always make sure I went back to my apart­ ment in Massapequa on Sunday nights with a full tray of food,” he said. “I was definitely a beneficiary o f that.” Ride the to the ball. There seems to be as many parties in the Hamptons as there are people. And we probably drove most of them there. Last summer the Jitney took hundreds of thousands of people to \party hearty.\ And they had a ball. HampfonJRney.oom • 6312 . S 3.4600 808805932782

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